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IT SHOULD HELP YOU THROUGH THE MINEFIELD OF 2006 LEGISLATION

TECHNICAL & PRACTICE

1. How Designers Think: The Design Process Demystified (fourth edition) By Bryan Lawson. Architectural Press, 2006. 321pp. £21

This book has been around, in various guises, for a quarter of a century and it certainly stands the test of time as a useful process-driven assessment of what design is and what a designer adds. It navigates the fundamental problems and dilemmas surrounding creativity and the practices required for its materialisation. This is a book about the art of creation rather than the creation of art.

It's an extremely readable book, due in part to the soundbite-sized chapters, but the drawback of this accessibility is that substantive arguments suffer due to the lack of detail.

The other problem is that by trying to formalise the creative process - like attempting to analyse a joke - something gets lost in translation.

The description of Cologne's Severin bridge design, for example, completely misses out the fact that regardless of the successful struggle to resolve the architect's and engineer's concept sketches, the final design was determined by 'external constraints'.

It also misses out the fact that the Severin bridge is actually a 20year-old example (from earlier editions) that the author has failed to realise is a peculiarly dated and ugly structure with which to showcase design universals.

On this point, what is lacking in the generalised description of process is the need for historical specifics. Design today, for example, is often seen as panacea for addressing social and political issues, unlike at any other time in history.

A recognition - and critique - of this would have been interesting.

2. Quonset Hut: Metal Living for a Modern Age By Julie Decker and Chris Chiei. Princeton Architectural Press, 2005. 165pp. £15.99

This book accompanies an exhibition at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art in Alaska, recognising the Quonset hut as an important invention to come out of the Second World War and identifying the inventiveness it inspired in those who occupied them or lived near them. It also draws attention to the fact that many of them still exist, and are in use, in America's 49th state.

The name 'Quonset' originates from the American military facility of Quonset Point, in Rhode Island, where the huts were built in the early years of the Second World War, modelled on the British Nissen huts of the First World War.

Even though it had better production standards and actually incorporated some insulation, it was still referred to as a Nissen hut up to 1941, when the curved wall/roof became a vertical wall up to the springing point of the roof radius, which helped to maximise the useable floorspace.

Part of the book explains the way in which architects and designers have benefited from the design of the 'hut that shaped a nation'. Charles Eames absorbed its design ideas and Bruce Goff, while serving with the US navy, designed facilities which incorporated the Quonset hut and continued to use its distinctive form in later mainstream design proposals.

The other aspect of the book is a vibrant visual document of wartime and immediate post?war America. Using original period advertisements and photography, the book takes you back to the dawning of the new consumer culture in the US.

Verdict: fascinating.

3. Energy Management in Buildings (second edition) By Keith J Moss.Taylor and Francis, 2005. 225pp. £29.99

Somewhat overtaken by events in the world of domestic and European regulatory frameworks, any book on this subject is bound to have some gaps. But with graphs and tables on practically every page (it sounds worse than it actually is), architects should benefit from some useful case studies and rules of thumb - including cost/benefit analysis of heat recovery systems or average energy consumption in various building types. It is a little turgid, and needs some mathematical nous, but it should help you keep them on the straight and narrow through the minefield of 2006 legislation.

4. Material Architecture: Emergent Materials for Innovative Buildings and Ecological Construction By John Fernandez. Architectural Press, 2006.332pp. £29.99

Especially at the beginning and end of this book, the author indulges in an over?extended academic thesis that has lost sight of its objective and indulges in a personal view of 'the dangers of materiality' without feeling an obligation to intellectually engage with the counter-arguments. Admittedly, the main central section contains handy snippets of information about corrosion management in metals, the durability of polymers, fly?ash in concrete, etc, but even these sections are too wordy.

Described as a series of essays, the author would do well to stick to the facts and avoid the polemic.

Tall Buildings - a Strategic Design Guide Edited by Ziona Strelitz. RIBA Enterprises and British Council for Offices (RIBA Bookshops), 2005. 140pp. £25

This book professes to be a general guide, but really it's about London, and it focuses too much, for my liking, on KPF and its as-yet-unbuilt Heron Tower as a fine example of the species of tall buildings writes David Taylor. I counted 150 images of KPF schemes in the book's 140 pages.

There are some useful aspects on issues like the comparison of the floorplates of some of the key tall buildings in London; a good section covering lift technology - which has long driven the ability to match the aspiration for higher buildings; and a section, by structural engineer Harry Bridges, that expertly sets out the different forms of the buildings, like the centre core, outrigger, megabrace or bundled tube. But there's just a half page on sustainability.

One great graphic shows all the constraints on development - views, World Heritage Sites, etc, overlaid on a map of the City of London.

But really, the book falls down because much of the text is: a) airy?fairy ('tall buildings serve an economic role in meeting business objectives'); b) simplistic ('where tall buildings provide for a mix of uses involving work, leisure retail and/or residential functions, they can facilitate a reduction in urban travel'); or c) just plain obvious ('an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)? will analyse the effects of the proposal on the environment.') For all the nitpicking however, this book just about works as a lightweight reference or an introduction to tall buildings.

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